Vincent had killed thousands of men in his long life. This next one would be no different.
The night had brought peace to the wasteland, disturbed only by the clumsy movements of his prey. Vincent kept his eyes on his target as he followed him, his own steps deathly silent on old concrete. Ahead, a man with a backpack slung over his shoulder and a flashlight clutched in his shaking hand was heading towards a building long forgotten by the new world. Its crumbling walls promised ancient scrap and with it, potential reward.
This man that wandered alone through the wastes, however, would find nothing but death inside.
The target entered the building through a tall crack in the concrete, the original door long since blocked by a mountain of rubble. Suddenly alone, Vincent looked up at the moon, finally clear in the sky after so many years clouded by ash. As he looked up at its baleful glow, he thought of the impossibly bright flashes that had once ignited the night. So long ago.
He shook the memory away and concentrated on the man who’d stepped directly into his trap. Vincent drank in the air, tasting the coolness of the night sky and feeling anticipation run through his body. His thirst was up. No time to linger.
With one look over his shoulder to make sure the man didn’t have company, Vincent slid into the building behind his prey. Moments later, in a flash of violence and delight, it was done. Time to feed.
Vincent had been too hasty. Too hungry for the kill. He’d made a mistake.
He dropped his victim as the shouts from below filled the old warehouse, unwillingly relinquishing the delicious flesh from his mouth. A mixture of feelings flooded him at the separation. Ecstasy at the joy of feeding. Anger at having done it so sloppily. Shame. Always the shame. Hatred, at himself and at the hand he’d been dealt. And now, with the interruption, fear.
He watched these fresh intruders enter his temporary home, filtering through the debris and the skeletons of old machinery, long since picked clean. They’d find nothing of value here. From his high vantage point, Vincent could only make out four of them. But there were more than that. He knew it, like someone knows their own face. His ears tingled with their shambling awkwardness, the heavy movements they made as they searched his domain.
The raiders were clad in a mismatch of different garb. Some wore tattered fabric hastily stitched back together. Others wore leather or furs. All of them, worryingly, carried rifles. It had been a few weeks since Vincent had seen a gun, and perhaps months since he had seen this many in one place. The two raiders who had advanced furthest into the building stopped and turned to one another as the largest of them spoke.
“There’s nobody here Jack. Ain’t no sign. Let’s go back. It’s too dark.”
“His fucking tracks led here. You telling me he just disappeared!?”
Vincent took stock of his situation. The lair he was crouching in was a mezzanine that overlooked an ancient factory floor. The intruders picked their way over rubble, spilling into his domain from the vertical rent in the wall. Light spilled in but fell short of reaching the depths of the factory, or most importantly – from reaching Vincent. One on the raiders knelt down. Vincent’s breath died in his throat even whilst the pure delight of having fed began to flood through his body. The raider pulled a dark shape up from the factory floor. Shit, thought Vincent. Sloppy. Rash. Idiot.
“Look, it’s his backpack!” the man shouted, waving the item for the rest of the party. At once, those who had been spread out and searching in the factory converged on this new discovery. New count. Seven in total. Vincent looked down at the corpse of the man he’d fed on. Eight, once. He slid away from the body and kept low, crouching to avoid detection as he moved along the mezzanine section. The raiders below were arguing about the new discovery.
“It’s his fuckin’ pack. He was here. Something has got him!” The original voice.
“We don’t know that. He might have booked it.” A newcomer.
“Run off? Fuck you. He was with me” A female voice.
“Find him.” Calm. A leader, perhaps.
As Vincent moved, his footsteps made no sound. He wiped a sleeve across the blood that dripped from his mouth. Down below, the raiders had split up again and were now pushing further into his building. Closer to the staircase. Vincent felt a tiny flash of anticipation that was something like fear. Excitement, perhaps.
“Up here.” The voice of the leader.
Vincent reached the back of the mezzanine section. The staircase below led straight up to his position. One entrance in and out. That’s why he’d picked it as a temporary home. Now, he had nowhere to run. But neither did they.
The leader, the biggest man in the crew, reached the top of the stairs and saw Vincent. Up close, Vincent could easily pick out details despite the dark. The man was broad, with a face pockmarked by scars that spoke of a hard life. The same face Vincent had seen an immeasurable amount of times. When it caught a glimpse of him, it contorted in rage.
“Vampire! Vampire!” The man shouted. He swung the rifle to bear, shouldering it and firing. Vincent watched the muzzle flares and saw the bullets come, but slipped out of the way with blinding deftness, dancing between the salvo. More shouts came from below, and shots began to whizz past him, hitting the metal rails and wall, sending ancient splinters and dust into the stale air.
“I would really prefer to avoid this. I am sure you don’t have many rounds left to waste and I haven’t got a fight to pick with any of you.” Vincent spoke quickly to the man who had just shot at him, who was currently alternating between inspecting his gun as if it had betrayed him personally and looking up at the unharmed form he’d just shot an entire clip at. Some of the bullets still fired from below and thudded into his flesh. He felt very little of their sting, but blood nevertheless sprayed onto the wall behind him.
“It was you!” The raider’s eyes glanced over to the upstairs office room, where the body of his compatriot lay in a pool of blood, legs splayed out of the doorway. “That’s Isaac!” More of the raiders arrived up the stairs, but hesitated when they saw the unharmed and unarmed man facing them.
Vincent stared down at the group, their eyes wide with fear and their guns pointed at him. They looked grim-faced despite their terror – a seasoned bunch of wastelanders. Vincent quickly counted. Six. The realisation came too late: he wasn’t the first of the otherkind they’d faced.
As the thought crossed his mind, the seventh raider, still standing down below on the factory floor, fired a different weapon. This one thrummed almost silently as it loosed its projectile, but was recognisable enough to instil instant fear in Vincent. The six on the stairs began firing, the bullets thudding harmlessly into Vincent as he concentrated on hurling himself away from the silver-tipped crossbow bolt that slammed into the wall. He rolled and ran – vaulting the railing and falling to the factory floor even as bloody chunks of his body were punched loose by the gunfire.
He hit the ground like a feather, quickly propelling himself forwards at the assailant with the crossbow. Vincent knew crossbows, but it had been a long time since he’d seen a working one. Longer still since he’d seen one fired so competently.
“Don’t let him get away!” Someone barked from behind. Vincent could hear the raiders rushing back down the staircase, falling over themselves with eagerness now that the tables had been turned. The man with the crossbow, meanwhile, was hurriedly loading a new bolt. The silver tip shone in the half-light, the moon at the man’s back. But Vincent had darkness on his side – and that was all he’d ever needed.
As the new bolt snapped into place, the Vampire reached the man with the crossbow. The man pulled the trigger and Vincent felt the whoosh of the bolt as it sliced through the air. He slipped aside, but the silver tore a deep graze of burning hot agony through his arm. Without stopping, he barrelled into the shooter and landed on top of him. The man weighed very little, crumpling down to the floor. Vincent wasted no time, yanking the man back up and spinning to his back. From there, he wrapped one forearm around his throat and stared back into his own home at the raiders now scrambling towards him.
“One more step and I’ll kill him!” He shouted. His voice echoed around the factory.
The raiders, all six, stopped dead in their tracks. Only two kept their rifles pointed, potentially weighing up a clean shot. Vincent kept his body pressed tight to the crossbowman’s back, giving them nothing other than a quick way to murder their companion.
Vincent surveyed the men and women in front of him. Their ragged gear, their surprisingly well-equipped arsenal. He could still feel the beautiful blood surging inside of him and along with it, the deep satisfaction of a well-fed vampire. He could hear the panicked heartbeats of his attackers. Smell their fear. He’d even taken their only effective weapon. He had more than enough strength. It would be so easy.
The sun beating through the gap behind him was rising higher. The light was almost on his back now and he could feel the unbearable heat of it.
“I only took your companion because I have to feed. If you all leave me to collect my things, you are free to go.”
“Why the fuck would we believe you’d do that?” The leader barked. His fear was not as palpable as the others – but it was there, bulging at the corners of his eyes which were streaked red.
“Because I tire of how easily you humans die. I tire of being hounded from place to place by hunters. We all share this desolate excuse we call a planet.” He shrugged from behind the man he held, who was trembling with fear. The leader of the group continued to look at Vincent, his eyes searching for something resembling truth in Vincent’s words. For a second, there was a mutual understanding. We both know you are my victims. We both know I have no reason to let you go. His human shield let out a mumbled groan of terror. Something older stirred in Vincent then. Something primal. He wanted nothing more than to sink his fangs into his victim’s neck. To drink the sweet, sweet nectar that flowed forth. To butcher them all, as everyone knew he could.
“If you let us go, we’ve got something you’d like.” The leader aimed his bargain at Vincent, with hesitation in every word. “We’ve captured a wolfie. You can have her.”
“What!? The wolf is for the Order!” Another man shouted. “We can take this thing. We’ve got silv-”
“Shut the fuck up!” The leader commanded.
“Fuck you, Klarn. I don’t owe you shit! He killed Marcus. I say we blow the blood sucker’s chest out.”
The man in Vincent’s grasp let out a pathetic protest, shaking his head to his companions.
Vincent surveyed the group. His eyes weighed each one. He could see. Truly see – which of them wanted to accept the bargain. To run. And which, more interestingly, wanted to fight. Time slowed as they reached into satchels – an action they’d had no time to take when they’d chanced upon him. Now, stuck in a standoff, they dared dart hands into packs. Rifle magazines started to creep out into three of the raider’s hands. Vincent saw, with a delightful flash of excitement, the glint of silver. He moved.
It was over before they had a chance to load the rifles. The Vampire snapped the neck of his shield, a sickening pop sounding into the warehouse, and then darted forth. Blood spattered the walls as Vincent’s nails carved swathes of death at blinding speeds. All three who had been reaching for their ammunition dropped dead. The others knelt, sheltering their eyes from the bloodshed.
“Stop! Stop! Please!” A female voice cried. Vincent felt the bloodrage in him now, the lust of it. The dance and the delight that beat in his ears. He found himself smiling – but quickly replaced the expression as he slowed and took stock of the situation. He’d left three alive. The leader, a female and another. All of them cowered. Typical.
At once, his lust was replaced with a familiar weariness. A boredom, almost.
“If I let you go, it means I have to leave this place,” Vincent looked around the decaying factory floor. “And I’ve become fond of it.”
“No!” The leader protested. He got back to his feet, attempting to look strong. In the man’s battle-worn face, Vincent saw a level of silent desperation that gave him pause. A reflection. “We’re outcasts man. We can’t settle. We scavenge what we can and we move on. No town is gonna believe us anyway! They’ll think we’re trying to lay a fuckin’ trap.”
“And your…” Vincent’s mouth curled a little. “…wolf? Why would you think that would buy you your freedom? Why would I care about a stinking animal?”
This seemed to genuinely shock the man. “I thought…people say…y’know?”
“I can guess. But I want to hear it, what do people say?”
“They say nothing pleases a vamp more than killing a wolf. That your kind might feed on us, but you really fucking hate the wolves. This one is special though, believe us…she doesn’t even have a scratch on her.”
Vincent wanted to chuckle, but his exasperation prevailed. Then he realised what the raider had actually said. He raised an eyebrow, and his next question was fired out quickly – deadly serious in its tone.
“Special? No scratches, at all? You mean she’s got no scars?”
“No! No scars, no bites – nothing! She’s the first I’ve seen like that.”
“I don’t believe you…”
“See for yourself, man.”
Vincent paused, then said slowly, “How did you even come by a wolf? Aren’t you afraid it will savage you in your sleep?”
Klarn looked at his fallen companions, guilt filled his face. “We’re ex-Order. All of us. We know a thing or two about wolves.”
“And vampires.” Vincent added. Of course, that’s why they’ve got silver.
“Apparently…” the woman spoke up, her voice fragile with fear. Her eyes met Vincent’s and he saw the bitter hatred there. She looked away. “Apparently we know jack shit about that part. All that training just for you to fuck us up.”
“The wolf.” Vincent said, returning to his point, “How did you separate it from its pack. Is it a deserter?”
“It’s a prisoner. We found it two days ago… Abandoned by a pack. Lying in the dirt next to to a dead, decapitated male…a hunter must have missed her. She’s outside tied up. Look man. This is your chance. Your kind hates these things. You can choose what you do to it!”
“And I shouldn’t kill you all and then walk outside to finish it off…why, exactly?” Vincent said. The question hung in the air, all parties silent. One of the dead men whimpered. Not as dead as he should be.
“B..Because…you don’t…want to?” Klarn’s question sounded as ridiculous to Vincent as it did to the raider. He saw the man’s shoulders sag in grim acceptance. The woman and the other raider held hands. Vincent looked at them all and felt the same sickening sense of abject disdain.
But he also felt…tired. Not physically. He felt fantastic, having newly fed. But when he considered finishing the group of terrified humans off, even if that meant he wouldn’t have to flee the home he’d been using for months now for fear of retribution…Vincent realised they were right. He didn’t want to. He shook his head.
“Get out of my sight. Don’t tell anyone about this place…” He saw hope glint in the leader’s eyes. He fixed them with his own, his stare its own deadly promise, “Or I’ll find you.”
The group didn’t need to be told twice. Stepping over their dead companions, they made for the crack in the wall.
“Leave the wolf.” Vincent commanded. “And the guns.”
“Y-you got it!” Klarn shouted back. He hesitated before dropping the rifle.
Vincent watched them retreating into the light. He saw the doubts written on the leaders face. The idea of being able to flee into the safety of the sun. Free of any promises.
“Don’t try anything.” He said, a slight smile on his face. He pulled the hood up over his face and slid his goggles down. As Klarn stood at the entrance to the factory, sunlight beaming in and illuminating dust as old as time, the vampire stepped into the light.
Klarn’s eyes went wide. His companions had already bolted and now their leader took one final look at Vincent before turning and running. Immediately, Vincent moved to the entrance, his skin burning even despite the heavy cloak he wore to dampen the radtion’s effect. He watched the three raiders fleeing into the wasteland. Then he saw it, chained up to a tubular piece of steel that humans once called ‘bicycle racks.’
Vincent’s surprise made his heart jump suddenly in his chest, flaring to white-hot life after years of darkness.
The wolf was a child.